Project MyUSA

Presidential Innovation Fellows

Project MyUSA: Welcome to Round 2!

Hello! I know it’s been a while, but seeing as how we just kicked off the second round of the Presidential Innovation Fellowship, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post a quick update on Project MyUSA. Things have been going quite well, and we’ve got some amazing stuff in the works over the next few months.

First, let’s address the name change. We are now Project MyUSA! From the earliest days of the project, we discussed what the ideal name for the project should be, but we wanted to focus our energy on coming up with great ideas, and so we put it aside. Towards the very end of the first round of Project MyGov, we revisited the subject and, after much consideration, decided to rechristen the project as MyUSA. We think MyUSA more effectively captures what we’re trying to accomplish and how we’d like to present ourselves to the public. We hope you like it!

Let’s recap where things are; in the first round, we (Phil, Ben, Danny, Kara and I) were given a challenge: how could we make a citizen’s experience when interacting with government better? To answer that question, we took a hard look at the current state of things, identified what we felt were the key issues, and set about to come up with solutions.

The problems we identified were:

  • It’s hard to navigate government to find the information, tools and services relevant to your needs;
  • Interacting with the government is done through multiple channels with no consistent user experience, and no way to control or manage how government access your information;
  • Engaging the government to do something for you, typically by filling out and submitting a form, is still an antiquated and cumbersome process.

The solutions we built to help solve them were:

  • MyUSA Discovery: a toolbar that can be added to any government website to help connect visitors to resources across federal, state and local government websites, so they can quickly find what they are looking for;
  • MyUSA Account and MyUSA API: a single account that citizens can use to sign into any government website, giving them control of how government interacts with them and their information. The MyUSA API captures common ways in which government interacts with citizens and makes those available as web services for agencies to use in building citizen-centric web applications.
  • MyUSA Forms: a tool to enable agencies to create and publish forms online, and make every form an API.

The solutions we built, which are all open source on Github, were essentially prototypes; the next step is to take those prototypes, get them production-ready, and start testing them in the real world. Which brings us to today.

We’ve just brought on a new group of outstanding fellows, and our main goal is to take those solutions and scale them out so that America can begin to use them. Once the tools are in production, we can begin to collect feedback and improve what we’re offering based on what makes sense for users.

To do that, we’ve put together two teams, all part of the greater MyUSA initiative. The core MyUSA team will be focused on improving and scaling out the existing solutions, while the BusinessUSA team will be focused on building a killer example of what kinds of applications and interactions are possible with MyUSA’s tools and services.

We’ll post more in the coming days and weeks with details of what we’re rolling out. In the meantime, let’s introduce the team.

First off, I’m very happy that I was asked to lead Project MyUSA after my fellowship ended in January. This project is very near and dear to my heart and I’m determined to see it succeed.

Our new fellows are:

  • John Felleman (BusinessUSA)
  • Justin Grevich (MyUSA)
  • Hillary Hartley (MyUSA)
  • Claire Holroyd (BusinessUSA)
  • John Kemp (MyUSA)
  • Alison Rowland (BusinessUSA)
  • Amos Stone (BusinessUSA)
  • Raphael Villas (MyUSA)

More information about the fellows (scroll down to MyUSA)

In addition, we’re very happy to have the support of the team at GSA and BusinessUSA at the SBA. We’ll be working very closely with them over the coming months to benefit from their skills and experience.

And with that, let Round 2 of Project MyUSA begin! Please be in touch if you have any thoughts, ideas or questions, and keep your eye out for more regular updates soon!

Twitter @ProjectMyUSA
Facebook Project MyUSA

Posted in announcements | Tagged MyUSA, Discovery, Account, API, Forms, Round 2

Open Source *All* The Things

Open Source *ALL* the things.

When we first set out to reimagine the relationship between government and the people, our goal was not simply to build the next generation of citizen-facing tools and services, but to also fundamentally change how these tools are built. We started by looking closely at at our own process and quickly committed to architechting an open platform from day one.

Today, MyGov would not be possible if it were not for countless open source projects, from our own internal tools to the very servers that power MyGov itself. For those unfamiliar with the term, open source software is simply software for which the underlying, human-readable instructions are made publicly available for others to use, re-use, and submit improvements. Think about it as analagous to the “give a penny take a penny” tray at your local convenience store, or asking a neighbor if you can borrow a screwdriver.

Why open source rocks

Open source offers government many advantages. For one, it provides opportunties for cross-agency collaboration that avoids duplication of efforts — after all, many of the challenges faced are common across government. Shared solutions like MyGov allows agencies to concentrate on tackling mission, as opposed to trying to solve the same problem time and time again. Likewise, without having to reinvent the wheel each time, agencies can bring services to market faster, cheaper, and often with better quality. Last, open source forces developers not to bake in bespoke solutions or couple interfaces too closely to underlying logic. This allows for better modularity and fungability over the lifetime of the code, meaning individuals systems can more easily communicate with one another and the initial investment can last longer and be more easily upgraded over time.

It’s about the community, people

At its core however, open source is about community, not technology. Today we’d like to take a moment to give back — to put a penny back in the tray — and more importantly, to add to the ongoing dialog around improving the digital delivery of government services. Both with our colleagues at other government agencies, and with the public more broadly. As with all open source software, feel free to adapt the code for your own projects, but with this code especially, we encourage you to take a moment to improve it by submitting a pull request.


Behind the scenes

Jump right in

MyGov began its journey by setting out to improve the way citizens interact with government, but to continue, we need your help. The code is just the start. It is our hope that these MyGov projects can serve as one example of a greater joint effort — citizens and government collaborating to improve our shared experience. After all, unlike many other sites on the web, it’s your code. You paid for it. If you’re a coder or a designer or even just an involed citizen, we encourage you to take a critical look at MyGov, and get involved on our developer page.


This is our final post as Team MyGov. It’s been a great 6 months, and we appreciate all your help, support, and feedback along the way as we worked on our project. There’s more to come from MyGov in the future, but for now: so long, and thanks for all the fish.

Regards, Phil Ashlock, Ben Balter, Danny Chapman, Kara DeFrias & Greg Gershman Presidential Innovation Fellows v1

Posted in announcements | Tagged Open Source, Developers, Community, Code

Introducing the MyGov Discovery API: Come Build Something Cool

Last week we announced the MyGov Discovery Bar. This week we’d like to dive a bit deeper by taking a look at the API that powers it, with the hope that developers within the open-government community can help make it better.

Thy Discovery API exposes all the information that’s normally available via the MyGov Discovery Bar (code) in an open, machine-readable format. In fact, the Discovery Bar itself consumes the API — we eat our own dog food. Why would we do this? Two reasons: first, exposing an API to collect and retrieve information at the outset and then going back to build the layer to display it forces us to separate data from presentation and allows the application to be more flexible.

The Discovery Bar may be how the information is used today, but that doesn’t mean it’s always going to be that way and we encourage members of the community to build apps using it. Second, by using the API to power the Discovery Bar, we can see the data from the perspective of an outside developer and can hopefully, in the end, produce a better, more useful API.

Using the API

So what can the Discovery API do? Currently, the federal .gov footprint is organized around how government is structured. If a citizen wants to complete a given task, they have to know what agency to go to, and often times, what office within that agency. The Discovery API layers a folksonomy on top of the entire .gov landscape, allowing developers to query pages by keyword, or more importantly, to find content related to a given page.

Think about it this way: if you decide to change your name (perhaps you’re getting married), you’re probably going to want a new passport. But if we knew that task was also closely related to getting a new social security card or driver’s license, at least we could point you in the right direction. But that’s not the only way the Discovery API can be used. What if you want a listing of the top government content by tag, or a timely subject? Just query the Discovery API by tag.

Under the Hood

The Discovery API breaks the .gov space into pages, each represented by a uniqiue URL. Pages can have tags which in turn provide related pages. Each page is organized by domain (the part before the .gov in the URL), and domains can be queried by reverse domain name (e.g., gov.whitehouse.). This way, if you want all the subdomains of a given agency, you can get that list in a machine readable format.

The Discovery API launched with some core seed data, namely each federal executive .gov, and those pages available within one click of the home page, but over time, as people use the API, it can grow to become a comprehensive index of the most popular government pages.

Interested in giving it a try? Kick the tires in our API Sandbox or take a look at the code powering it.

Posted in announcements | Tagged Open Source, Developers, Community, Code, API

Introducing the MyGov Discovery Bar

This is the first in a series of posts introducing each of the products we’ve been working on as part of Project MyGov.

MyGov Discovery Bar shown seamlessly integrating on

MyGov Discovery Bar shown seamlessly integrating on

The government web is two things: big, and distributed. (Did we mention big?) The General Services Administration (GSA) runs, a central site that provides a top-level view into the government web. That works well if you’re on, but what if you’re on some other part of the government web? Shouldn’t you be able to see other resources, programs, benefits, services, forms, etc. from across the federal government if they are relevant to what you’re trying to accomplish?

Here at Project MyGov, we think the answer to that question is: “Yes.”

So we built the MyGov Discovery Bar, which acts as a persistent tool to help you navigate the government web. When looking at a government web page, the Discovery Bar uses its knowledge of what the page is about to recommend other related pages. Just like when Amazon says, “People who bought this item, also bought this one,” we recommend other pages across the government web footprint (regardless of what site or agency they live on) to you, when you need it most.

To do this, we’ve built the Discovery Bar to unobtrusively slide into view as you reach the end of a page. (We figure if you’re that far down the page, you’re ready for more information.) We’ve tried to make it easy for you to control the experience, so if you feel like the bar is in the way, you can minimize or close it completely.

We also want to help improve your overall experience when visiting government websites. If you expand the bar, a few options present themselves. You can view tags associated with the page you’re looking at. You can even add or edit tags to help make our service better. You can provide feedback to the government on the page you’re viewing, and help us figure out which are the most helpful of our pages. And if you’re just not finding what you’re looking for, you can do a search across all the government web sites.

All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.

All right Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up.

We’re working with agencies to get the Discovery Bar set up as a standard across the federal web; state and local governments are welcome to participate as well. In the meantime, we’re doing testing as part of our private beta, and will update here when the bar is more generally available. You can sign up for the beta.

We’re pretty excited about the Discovery Bar, and think it’s a great step toward making the federal web even more user-centric.

Keep an eye for for Part II of the series: Introducing your MyGov Account.

Posted in announcements | Tagged Bar, Discovery, Screenshots